2016 Barthelme Prize Honorable Mention: Fall from Grace

Molly Reid

The first one, a visitor from out of town, slipped on a mossy rock and fell one thousand feet into the gorge's open mouth. Then Marcy Eldritch, a week from her thirteenth birthday, leaned too far out a third-floor window. The neighbor broke his neck, lost his balance cleaning his gutters. Ten people dropped twenty floors when an elevator cable broke in the bank building downtown.

They keep falling. One after another. City officials are hesitant to call it an epidemic, but the media has no such qualms. Details are sensationalized, distance hyperbolized, physics made graphic. It seems all anyone talks about these days. At the grocery store, in line at the post office. Did you hear about the dentist/window cleaner/taxidermist/baker who slipped on the/stepped over the precipice/stair/scaffolding/lip of the well?

Not all falls are fatal. Most are doing it more often: tripping on shoelaces, cracks in the sidewalk, showing up for work with scabs, bruises, Band-Aids across chins and noses and knees, wincing.

My wife says it's a hex. She believes in witches, my wife. Baba Yaga in her little hut on chicken feet. Someone in this town, my wife won't say who, did something. All this seems like a steep price to pay for one person's mistake. But I guess who knows, all you can do is be extra careful. Keep antibiotic ointment on hand. Avoid high places.

Three teachers from the elementary school fall off their Vespas. A three-year-old falls into the lion exhibit at the zoo. Dr. Wheeler, who is not a real doctor but is very good at fixing bikes, falls from the climbing wall at the gym. My wife keeps falling out of bed. I wake to the familiar kathump then theatrical groan as she crawls back under the sheets.

I have my own theories. Because people have lost all sense of what's real. What's important. But maybe our souls, or whatever you want to call the part that speaks in dreams, what attaches us to the universe, to the stars and the antelopes, know better. Maybe they throw our bodies down to humble us, to remind us what the ground feels like, to remind us of these bodies.

But some of us already know. Some of us are already so in our bodies these days they throb at the slightest touch.

My confession is that I feel lighter. I haven't fallen once. While everyone around me plummets, while my wife tumbles from stairs and curbs and nothing at all, flat ground, while the bruises drift like shadow continents beneath her skin, I remain intact, upright. Buoyant, even.

I begin to test my luck, just to see what the limits are. I lean over extravagantly high balconies, climb tall trees, take my dinners on the roof. What does it mean to fall from grace, to fall behind, to fall apart? What does it mean to fall in love?

Lean back, my wife says, holding out her arms behind me, I'll catch you.